VIRUS


Everyone catches the virus, sooner or later. 

I suppose in that sense maybe it wasn’t a virus, or something you caught. Maybe it was better to think of it like a fact of life, like tax or a smear test. Unpleasant, but dealable. In fact, I believe most people do think of it that way, by this point in time. 

The virus began... I’m not sure, actually.  Some time ago.  Before I was born... Thirty years ago?  It’s a little vague. Everything is a little vague: me, the TV, the postman. We’re all confused. Not so much that we can’t work or function, it’s just hard to focus sometimes, hard to hold onto a thought, harder to hold a fact. 

It’s not distressing. 

No. That’s not right. Sometimes, when something happens in some place, some other city or country, and you watch the news and think how terrible it seems, how lucky you are to be here… and then later, you want to... you know? Share the feeling, maybe in the pub, over a drink.  But the facts have gone. You remember something happened, and how it made you feel, but the story seems empty somehow, without the bad news to compare with the good feeling. 

Then it’s a little frustrating. But the posters help. The ’ment put up posters around the place, keeping you focused, helping you to remember what you need to remember.  Elections, fuel prices, gossip. Things you need to know. The virus, of course. The ’ment makes sure we remember the virus is out there. 

 

Everyone catches the virus. That’s what they say. 

 

It must have been a long time ago, because now it’s pretty standard.  I think it must take some time for something to become standard, because people wouldn’t like it, would they?  People wouldn’t have just accepted the virus. Or the cure. There must have been great debates, long ago.  With white haired men and women. In white dresses, with green leaves around their heads.  That image seems important, seems to fit. I probably learnt about it school.

So this is what I know. I know I know this because I’ve always known it, even when I’ve been vaguing in and out. It’s like a crystal inside me, spiky and sparkly and it won’t quite disappear, no matter what else does. The virus, everyone gets it. Some people die, but not many, not really.  There is a cure, and the cure is free. You get some symptoms, you go to the supital and usually you get an injection and leave after a day or so. It’s not big deal, not really. 

If you’re out of the loop you can still die, poor or strung out on something like Pliab or whatever. Pliab, it’s nice. Good. You feel sick as a dog the next morning, but at the moment you’re in, it’s good. Most people try it at some point. Some don’t give it up. I used to do it a lot. 

Maybe that’s why I feel so... why I drift? It catches your mind, holds it tight, brushes it gently.  That feeling you get, when you’re in love? It’s early, and you’re laying together and the world moves, slightly, so that you’re tilted backwards and all your gravity is on the other person and you know they have you safe and tight and sound and warm… That’s Pliab.

 

So yeah, everyone catches the virus. 

 

The virus was some kind of war weapon, it was let go to end a war. I guess it worked, cos we don’t have wars now. You see them on TV, but they’re not our wars. Sometimes people go fight, young boys and girls. Where do they go..? Away, somewhere bad. But they have to. You see. They pay for the cure.

They don’t get to choose, they get chosen. Early, at birth. A lottery, a spinning wheel that chooses the supitals, chooses the babies. So they live well, get taken away from their family, but they live well. Then they go fight, fight for the cure so everyone else gets to live. The lottery is fair, really. The ’ment says it’s fair. 

 

But... that spiky, sparkly crystal... it didn’t feel fair.  Not then. Not now. I think it’s that feeling that keeps me lucid.  I don’t circle. Like the men and women, with red cloaks and white wigs, and big wooden hammers, the ones I told you about; the ones who debated the rights and wrongs of the cure. I know those people must have thought hard about it, because people wouldn’t just accept the cost; they’d argue. I saw it once, on a history program.

 

I’ve had the virus. I was cleaning, I think. I was leaning over something white… the bed? Or some clothes? I can’t… I’m not sure, but I was at home, and I was leaning over something white, and the blood began. A river, a roaring, thundering waterfall of deep, black, rotten bloody gunge came up from inside my stomach, up past my throat, pushing and funnelling out past my mouth and nose. 

The force of it knocked me onto my back and the bloody geyser shot up, smearing the windows and hitting the ceiling. I thought I would die. I knew that this great rush of blood was a sign of my insides liquidising, turning to slush, and really nothing more serious than that. The ambulances were already on their way, I could hear the paramedics climbing the stairs. The sensors in the flat, that amount of blood triggers the warning, and the ambulances are never more than five minutes away. 

They have to be. Or people die. Then more babies get chosen, more soldiers go to fight. So the ’ment keeps the ambulances close. 

 

Everyone catches the virus. It’s in the air, or the water, or the food. Somewhere, everywhere. 

 

I wanted another baby. It’d been years since mine was chosen and taken. I wondered sometimes if I’d seen him... her..? It on the news, fighting for me. I’m not sure what it would look like. Me, I guess. Maybe I had seen it, and not realised. I hoped so. I wanted it to still be alive and good somewhere.  I was entitled to another one, because the first was chosen. I didn’t need to go through clearance again. I wouldn’t pass I think, not this time. Too much Pliab, and the crystal... would they notice that? Probably. It spiked inside my mind.

 

An example: You know those grey stands you walk through, when you enter the shops, or supkets, or whatever? The ones which check your guilt, see if you’re stealing, or carrying, or whatever. The noise they made – so loud, like... like... what’s loud? An elephant. Like an elephant.  So, I want another baby, and I can have one, no muss, no fuss. Because they took mine; she was chosen. She was called Milly, after my mother. 

I owe her my life, because she makes the cure possible. I saw her once on TV, and I felt so proud. And I don’t need to go through clearance again. But I’m worried they’d notice the bitterness inside me. The anger that catches me off guard. 

Sometimes, I feel so angry, it feels like the blood again, filling me and consuming me and like it must, surely, explode out of me. I’m sure that if I had to be cleared for birth again I’d fail the test. This anger, this crystal, it sets the store alarms off. They sense it, you know? I shop off the net now. I don’t leave the house. But a baby would change that. I’d replace my baby boy, Michael.  Named for my father.

 

So I mailed the Birthdep and explained what I wanted, filled in a few forms and already the oestrogen has been taken out of my water, and soon I’ll be sent some details of men looking to have a baby. It’d take a while for my cycle to recover, the oestrogen to get out of my blood.  Oestrogen in the water. 

Oestrogen has saved so many people. No huge families, no unwanted children, violence down, aggression down. Nothing for us to do to keep it this way except use the water. Drink tea, water, coffee, wash food, wash plates, shower, brush teeth. The ’ment help us so much.  They help us so much. And they’re giving me my baby back. 

Not sure how long it’ll take for me to be able to have another baby. Can’t really remember how it happened the first time. I know they’ve got to change the water, and the notice sent to my infowall say that it’ll take some time for the water to change me back again, make me pregnancy-viable. 

 

Everyone wants the virus, but everyone drinks the water.

 

I shop off the net, safe in my house. I love to shop, like to browse the pages, try thing on, put them back.  Sometimes I forget the things I’ve reserved, but it doesn’t matter. A reminder is sent to the infowall. I get Pliab sometimes. You can get it from the net, if you’re careful.  Just avoid the supkets. Go straight to the IP, to the source. The infowall doesn’t know about it. Or maybe it does.  How much does it watch? Can’t remember ever seeing it turn off. It doesn’t seem to worry about how much I take, even though it’s illegal. 

Should I worry about that? Does my wall care if I die? Maybe not. It makes me tea when I wake up. It doesn’t have to. Occasionally it makes coffee too, without being asked. Water now, though. I’m gonna drink a lot of water now. 

The infowall was invented sometime around when LCD paper came out. Seems weird, how did people know what they were doing before the infowall? It’s like… you know, how did people organise their day? I’d forget everything without it. When I’ve been vaguing, the infowall is there to fill me in, catch me up. I like to watch history on it. It doesn’t like showing me history, says it’s not healthy, but it does anyway. Maybe it’s broken.

 

I wish I was sick again, back in the white room.

 

This morning I wake, shower, being sure to hold my mouth open to catch as much water as possible. Soap gets in, and I cough, and suddenly for a second, I remember the blood.  I remember how it stung my nose and throat, just before it surged up from my lungs and bowels.

It felt, for a fraction of a second, like a sneeze, but bigger. Like expelling something large from me, something that was part of me but then it wasn’t.

Pliab. Time to order more Pliab.

I think I’ve got the virus.

 


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